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Poetry and Medicine
May 15, 2002


Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2002;287(19):2469. doi:10.1001/jama.287.19.2469

You were old then. An African Brahmin
With thick blue veins and thin brown hands;
Kyphotic, sunken, dipped between.
I saw you groan and lift your pigeon chest,
Lighter than expectation, shaking and irregular
Like the prow of a balsa ship.
Breasts sinking in the first swell of the wake,
Old and quiet, salted and ecstatic,
Neck like a netted fish.
When you were young you entered a room
With the swaying movements of a tall woman
In reds and browns and olive greens
And a book of ancestors in each step.
Your sisters were afraid as you began to speak in Psalms:
"Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer;
And by night, but find no rest."
I tried to lead you from Psalm 22 to 23,
From the dogs round about to green pastures and still waters—
But you refused, and I didn't give enough.
You died gasping, surrounded by strong women, wanting more.